Marco Rubio’s plan to fix America’s retirement system


Sen. Marco Rubio Rubio wants to open up the federal Thrift Savings Plan -- available to members of Congress and their staff -- to those with no retirement plan through their employers. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who is considering a presidential bid in 2016, announced a broad plan Tuesday to reform America's retirement system.

During a speech organized by the National Press Club, Rubio proposed raising the retirement age for younger workers, opening up the retirement program used by Congress to non-government workers, and eliminating the payroll tax for people who continue to work after reaching full retirement age. Rubio also proposed scaling back Social Security benefits for wealthy retirees by slowing how quickly benefits will increase for those retirees who may not rely as much on Social Security payments.

Some of Rubio's proposals have been suggested before, and, for obvious reasons, raising the retirement age is rather unpopular with voters. Rubio is trying to work around this by keeping the full retirement age between 65 and 67 for people age 55 or older -- it changes depending on when you were born -- while gradually raising the age for younger workers. But some economists have argued that low-income workers could get stuck with fewer benefits since they typically die younger than higher-earning workers.

Rubio wants to open up the federal Thrift Savings Plan -- which is available to members of Congress and their staff -- to people who don't have access to a retirement plan through their employers. Similar to a 401(k), the thrift plan lets workers contribute up to $17,500 of their pay annually before taxes in a retirement account. The thrift savings plan also comes with lower fees than what most consumers are charged through private defined-contribution plans, Rubio said.

"The twisted irony is that members of Congress – who are employees of the citizens of the United States – have access to a superior savings plan, while many of their employers – the American people – are often left with access to no plan at all," Rubio said during the speech.

Part of the challenge for America's retirement system is broadening access. Only 64 percent of workers said that they or their spouse have retirement savings, according to a report released in March by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, which tracks benefits programs. But those workers haven't saved much. Some 36 percent of workers said they had put away less than $1,000 in retirement savings. And people who don't have access to a retirement savings plan, such as a 401(k), are much less likely to save. Only one in five workers without a retirement plan had saved money for retirement, compared with 90 percent of workers who participated in a savings plan.

People are generally hungry for better retirement savings options. In a survey released last week by Towers Watson, a professional services consulting firm, less than 50 percent of workers said they felt their plans would meet their needs in retirement, and the majority of employees said they would be willing to pay more for guaranteed retirement benefits

Jonnelle Marte is a reporter covering personal finance. She was previously a writer for MarketWatch and the Wall Street Journal.
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